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The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media Hardcover – May 23, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; First Edition edition (May 23, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393077799
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393077797
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #270,977 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“This is a comic book with zest and brains---and it just might help a reader understand the brave new world.” (New Yorker)

“...The Influencing Machine is an original work, a highly researched yet highly accessible survey of all things media—from the history of media/journalism beginning in ancient Rome through the Mayan scribes to the First Amendment press freedoms of the U.S. Constitution and beyond—and how the media's mission and its means have advanced through history.” (Calvin Reid - Publishers Weekly)

“Starred Review. Though the graphic format employed here is often playful and always reader friendly, this analysis of contemporary journalism is as incisive as it is entertaining, while offering a lesson on good citizenship through savvy media consumption….While some may see a sign of bias in the author’s own media affiliation, this historical analysis of how and why media and society shape each other should prove illuminating for general readers and media practitioners alike.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“One of the coolest and most charming book releases of this year… a refreshingly alternative approach to the age-old issue of why we disparage and distrust the news.” (Kirstin Butler - The Atlantic)

“Think Art Spiegelman meets Marshall McLuhan.” (Leon Neyfakh - New York Observer)

“Like Malcolm Gladwell or Michael Lewis or Michael Pollan, Brooke somehow takes a subject most of us don’t give a damn about and makes it completely entertaining.” (Ira Glass, host of This American Life)

The Influencing Machine is an indispensable guidebook for anyone who hopes to navigate the mirages and constantly shifting sands of our media landscape. Brooke Gladstone’s text and Josh Neufeld’s images illuminate one another with crackling wit and intelligence.” (Alison Bechdel, author of Fun Home)

“Brooke Gladstone’s The Influencing Machine is so remarkable that it is hard to describe. The best I can do is: it’s a book about the history and current controversies of the media, all done as a Spiegelman-style comic-strip narrative. Brooke herself (or at least an avatar) leads you through it all, and her ‘voice’—well known after her years as host of NPR’s On the Media—comes through loud and clear, thanks to Josh Neufeld's witty drawings. I learned a lot, including a lot that I should have known already, and enjoyed every minute.” (Michael Kinsley, author of Please Don't Remain Calm)

“A first-rate comics manifesto. The Influencing Machine has influenced me to think much more deeply about the media landscape live in. Gladstone and Neufeld can show and tell with the best of ‘em.” (Scott McCloud, author of Understanding Comics)

About the Author

Brooke Gladstone is cohost of NPR’s On the Media and former senior editor of All Things Considered. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Josh Neufeld is the author of the New York Times bestseller A. D.: New Orleans After the Deluge and A Few Perfect Hours. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

Technology is changing the media game for good.
It's a good point to make, and really just helps to prove that the media is a reflection of our own thoughts and biases more than it is anything else.
I spent ten dollars on this book for my kindle, and the entire comic book takes up one fourth of a page.
Bryan L Austin

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Guy L. Gonzalez on June 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"We get the media we deserve," declares NPR's Brooke Gladstone in her excellent The Influencing Machine, an insightful graphic manifesto that sits comfortably alongside Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business and Jaron Lanier's You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Vintage), both of whom make cameo appearances.

Gladstone, aided by Josh Neufeld's seamless visuals, makes a compelling case that the ills that plague media today -- mass and social -- are nothing new, that "we've been here before: the incivility, the inanities, the obsessions, the broken business models. In fact, it's been far worse and the Republic survives."

What follows is a broad, contextual overview of the history of media, recounted with a healthy sense of humor, and a refreshing undertone of optimism. eg: Near the end of the book, in two pages, she covers Ray Kurzweil and the Singularity, Lanier's skepticism, Planet of the Apes and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs... and it all makes sense!

"Graphic non-fiction" is a tricky format to pull off and not to everyone's taste, but Neufeld does a great job complementing Gladstone without letting the medium overshadow her message, and any student of media, formally or arm-chair, should read The Influencing Machine without hesitation.

Kudos to W.W. Norton for taking a chance on such an innovative book, though it's rather disappointing that the publisher of Frank Rose's excellent
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By on June 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"We get the media we deserve."

That's the simple premise that NPR's Brooke Gladstone and artist (not "illustrator"--this is comics after all) Josh Neufeld defend in a variety of often brilliant and always thought-provoking ways over the course of The Influencing Machine. The title itself, while intriguing and central to Gladstone's message, is somewhat deceptive: If you knew nothing about this information-packed yet highly readable work of graphic nonfiction, you might think it's a polemic about today's corrupt media cabal and the scary manner in which it manipulates the public. On the contrary, if anything, it's a polemic against those who hold such beliefs.

Of course, not all people, under every political system and throughout history, have gotten the media they deserve. Indeed, that's probably a point that the historically minded Gladstone would concede. Still, her book makes a convincing argument that in today's late-capitalism democracies, the consumer-driven media publishers are just that: driven by consumers. It's a truism that's easy to lose sight of, especially in its implications, so it's good that Gladstone is so persuasive when remarking that "when we see ourselves distorted in the media mirror, we should probably consider that some of what we see is actually us." But that's not all. She's also able to see the situation in far greater complexity and sum it up in language that instantly strikes with the force of aphoristic truth: "The media landscape is so cluttered with mirrors facing mirrors that we can't tell where an image begins or ends."

Analysis at this depth effectively renders the "Is the media biased toward the left?" question not exactly moot, but just far less compelling than perhaps it had been.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By You can call me Mike on June 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
It's easy to look at the media organizations in the US these days and fear that they are worse than they've ever been. This book reassuringly recounts how biased, slanted, and lying media have always been a part of our culture. The messages are delivered faster and constantly now, but truth, distortions, and lies have always coexisted.

The book covers the history of the media in the United States, from Thomas Paine's pamphlets to today's internet spam and cable news. It describes how the media have changed over time, sometimes influencing our society, and sometimes responding to how society has changed. It also presents some interesting research about how we respond to media and how we determine which of it to believe.

The graphic (aka comic book) form of this book made it very easy and entertaining to read. It was easy to put down and pick up again. The cartoon panels were an effective way to present historical anecdotes clearly.

Regular listeners of Brooke's excellent radio program will find some familiar material here, but there's more as well. I heartily recommend this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Berschauer on September 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
My first experience with "graphic" non-fiction was just OK, but my 2nd, Brooke Gladstone's Influencing Machine, was more enjoyable. Part history lesson, part analysis and part opinion, IM is a nice survey of the role of media in our society.

I liked Ms Gladstone's candor in the good, the bad and the ugly of the media, and how it has evolved over its 200+ years in America. I'm not, though, entirely convinced by the argument that media is a mirror of vs a shaper of public opinion. The example I'll draw from this book is Walter Cronkite's use of the term "stalemate" with respect to declining public support for the war in Vietnam following the Tet Offensive. Ms Gladstone points out that public opinion had been on a steady march downhill prior to Cronkite's statement, but the public was getting their information somewhere - public opinion wasn't all based on first-hand experience... What role did the media play there?

I personally believe the media more often plays the role of mirror than that of influencer (why else would we get the tripe that passes for TV news?); however, I also think there is a shaper/mirror dualism going on. While an enjoyable, informative overview, IM didn't move the needle of my perception in this respect - maybe that, by itself, is one proof point that media is a mirror rather than a shaper of opinion.
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